Grow a School Garden – Gardening in the Winter

Grow a School Garden – Jan/Feb 2018

Monthly blog by Chris Collins on How to Create and Grow a School Garden

Gardening in the winter

It’s tempting to stay in the warmth of the classroom – it’s not looking too cosy outside at the moment. A garden still needs the attention though, even in these dormant months and there are plenty of ways we can still tie the garden to the learning curriculum.

Getting ready for spring

A job that children never tire of is digging over the soil.

In many ways, January and February are great months to get head of the game. Any areas of soil or raised beds can be turned over and any unwanted plants removed. Give it a real thorough dig over, making sure the soil is broken into a nice fine texture and give it a rake to get it even.

This is great physical exercise for the pupils and it’s also an opportunity to teach them about soil – the gardener’s most important asset.

It also ties in nicely with making sure you’re ready to start composting come spring, if you are not already. Composting, of course, is the way we keep our soil healthy.

If you’re without a compost bin, why not get the children to design one? Maybe by applying a theme?

We built a Dalek compost on Blue Peter in one episode and this was a great way to make the subject more interesting. It would also make for a good art lesson.

Personally, my preferred way of composting is to have an open bin. By that I mean having something that is easily accessible.

Dalek composter
Build an open bin compost
  • Get four wooden posts, dig four holes and set the posts in at a depth of 20cm.
  • Add some quick drying concrete at the base of the posts.
  • After the posts set in, attach chicken wire to three sides of the posts leaving the front open.
  • Now it is easy to fill your compost area and you can also turn the contents easily.

You’ll find it can be great for wildlife too! What will the pupils find in it? Maybe a slowworm, or at the very least some earthworms and centipedes.

Tips for raised beds

I will add one more note about soil and it’s something I’ve observed on my travels to many schools over the years and that is raised beds that do not contain enough soil.

Make sure your beds or containers are properly topped up. Soil should be filled right up to at least 5cm from the top of a raised bed. Giving plant roots room to grow will be important to success.

Planning for spring growing

So, what to do on a dank wet February day when it’s the gardening club? Well, in many ways this can be an exciting time!

The spring will soon be here and it’s time to decide what you want to grow. How do you want your garden area to look? It’s an interesting math’s lesson on looking how tall or wide certain plants might get when planning your area and your growing space.

Make sure you get the Heritage Seed Library seed list catalogue from Garden Organic. It’s great fun for everyone to pick the plants that you want to grow.

“Pizza wheel” garden
Project idea: How to make a pizza wheel

To take this a step further, let’s apply this to a project. We can do this by making what I often refer to as a pizza wheel.

You can make one of these from recycled materials like bricks or pebbles.

  • Make a circle, using a pin at the centre of your area and string to mark the circle. The length of the string dictates the size of your pizza wheel is up to you.
  • Once you have your circle you can then divide it into sections or slices. This up to you but it does not need to be big, in fact you could even do it in a pot.
  • Now, as a class or a gardening club, pick a recipe for a meal then grow some of the contents of that recipe in your pizza wheel slices. For example, it could be something as simple as a salad and therefore you could grow a mix of lettuce, rocket, radish, tomatoes or cucumbers.

Well hope you find some ideas in the Grow A School Garden Blog and that you’ll join me next month.

If you have any questions or even ideas that you may want to contribute please do get in touch.

For the meantime, happy gardening!

Chris Collins

Head of Organic Horticulture – Garden Organic

Nominations open for RHS School Gardeners of the Year 2018

Entries are now open!

The RHS Campaign for School Gardening are on the lookout for the most inspirational young gardeners, educators and gardening teams in the UK.

You can read about last year’s finalists and winners here.

Prizes for finalists and winners in 2018 include a stunning Gabriel Ash greenhouse worth £3,425, Gabriel Ash Coldframes, £500 in vouchers, garden tools and unique opportunities to work with RHS and TV gardeners.

See their website for full details.

Grow Wild with free seed kits for schools

Are you ready to be part of the UK’s largest wildflower initiative, by bringing people together to transform a space in your community with native wildflowers?

UK native wildflowers in your school growing space will look beautiful and are a great way to encourage essential pollinators and wildlife to help your garden grow!

Grow Wild with Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, are offering  one quarter of their seed kits to schools this year.

In the UK we’re lucky to have some amazing wildflowers. Bringing people together, getting active, growing as a group and giving back through volunteering can all improve health and wellbeing. Plus by creating these pockets of wild beauty for your neighbors and friends, you will be contributing to their wellbeing too.

Applications close at the end of February 2018. Apply here.

Free trees are back for London primary schools!

Order your free pack of saplings from 15 January for planting with pupils on your school grounds next winter:

State primary schools which haven’t ordered tree packs previously, or for a long time, are eligible to apply.

This is a fantastic opportunity to get your children outside to learn about nature, improve the local environment at your school and create a much needed home for our urban wildlife. Packs as small as 30 saplings are available, so you don’t need much space to get involved!

Trees for Cities will provide all the necessary support to make you feel confident in planting and caring for your new saplings. They are the London delivery partner for the ‘Trees for Schools’ programme, funded by Defra and delivered in partnership with the Woodland Trust.

Please contact Trees for Cities for more information on 02075871320 or

Could your school be a food growing Training Hub?

Capital Growth are recruiting Training Hubs for 2018, to host food-growing training, Big Dig and Urban Harvest events.

Feedback from 2017 hubs has shown this was a great opportunity to “share knowledge”, “be part of a London wide network” and reach out to “people new to the garden”.

Find out more and download the application form at

Deadline:  Monday 15 Jan


Colour your garden – London artist offers free mural for your school garden

Could your garden or growing space do with a bright mural? Alessandra Tortone, a London based mural artist is offering to add a splash of colour to your garden!

Garden Organic and Food Growing Schools: London are teaming up with Alessandra to offer you a chance to have a free, bespoke mural (value of £500) painted on a wall or surface in your school or your school’s community garden growing space.

To enter the competition, you’ll need a bright idea and 1-3 concept drawings or artwork, preferably done by pupils involved in gardening at yours school. Here’s how to participate in the competition.

Meet the artist

Maybe you’ve seen Alessandra’s work around London?

One of her most well-known commercial projects has been a collaboration with Paul Sweeney to produce large size wall murals for more than 50 Starbucks coffee shops in the Greater London area.

But about her main passion, Alessandra says, “my favourite projects are children’s murals. They are fun, full of imagination and can transform a space into a magical world. In addition to creating jaw-dropping children’s bedrooms, I worked for a number of nurseries and children’s hospitals in London including Whittington Hospital in Archway and Queensbury Nursery in South Kensington.”

Her journey as an artist started in 2000 in her home of Sardinia, Italy. She says, “though I graduated as an accountant (this career lasted only 20 days!), my passion for painting was stronger. With a support of my family I was able to pursue my true calling. I attended a number of painting and drawing courses in both Rome and Sardinia. As a result, my art works progressed from smaller scale projects into larger wall murals and frescos in private homes and restaurants in Sardinia.”

Ready to participate?

The deadline for submissions is Friday 1 December so don’t hesitate!

Get the full competition details here.

Autumn teachers’ Food Growing Forum an all-round success!

Food Growing Schools London teams up with other organisations and councils in boroughs across London to get more schools engaged in growing.

October’s food growing forum held after school hours and hosted at St Andrew’s (Barnsbury) Primary School was a great success. 16 teachers from across Camden and Islington participated in the informative and inspiring session by sharing tips and resources from their food growing journey and initiatives.

Nick Ives, Engagement Officer for Food Growing Schools London (FGSL) writes:

“One of the best things about my role is working with fellow food growing enthusiasts – Marjon Willers, a Specialist Dietitian from the School Improvement Service of Islington is certainly one of those!  We connected in the summer term and agreed to hold some food growing forums for teachers after school in the Autumn and Spring terms. Marjon agreed to find a host school and invite participants, my colleague Lisa Grant and I agreed to facilitate the session.

Our hosts Jacqui and King, from St Andrew’s (Barnsbury) Primary School generously welcomed 16 teachers and ourselves for the after school session which lasted an hour and a half.

To make best use of time we structured the session into four phases and encouraged constructive dialogue throughout:

  • a brief introduction from each participant and an expression of what they wanted to get out of the session
  • a demonstration from Lisa of the key features of the redesigned FGSL website
  • a tour from King and Jacqui of the school growing spaces
  • brief plenary to pull ideas together and agree some actions.

Some participants were new to growing, others more experienced. We had plenty of useful discussions, in which we shared relevant experiences and ideas, as well as sign posting to helpful resources and expertise.  Some hoped to find out what to grow through the winter, others wanted to know how to make the best use of limited concrete growing spaces. As facilitators we made sure that every participant had a chance to get their questions addressed.

We encouraged everyone to keep in contact with us at Food Growing Schools: London – firstly to let us know what further support we can offer via our online survey and secondly to sign up for our regular FGSL Newsletter. We look forward to all meeting up again in the spring to share our growing stories some more.


This is what participants were kind enough to say about our forum:

  • ‘Well organized, informal and practical. Plenty of ideas to take forward’
  • ‘I have lots of cross curricular ideas now. More ideas for how to involve children in gardening’
  • ‘Found out what to plant in Winter’
  • ‘It’s great to see how another school is using its space and what they are growing’
Get in touch

Would schools in your borough benefit from a session of sharing and discussion like this one? Find out more, get involved and organise a session in your borough, simply email or call 02476217747.



School Marketplace at City Hall

School Marketplace is a FREE, unique and once a year opportunity for pupils to sell your school’s garden produce/harvest in City Hall.

This is Capital Growth’s 4th year of running the event and this year it will take place on Friday, 13 Oct from 12 noon to 2pm.

Be sure to keep up with Capital Growth for future events like this and check in on Twitter for photos and news!


The deadline to apply is Thursday, 5 of October.

To confirm your school’s place simply email: or complete the application form and send to Chris by Thursday 5 of October. Any questions call Sustain on: 020 7065 0902

Garden produce could be anything from fresh produce, like tomatoes, herb bunches or potatoes, to goods like jam, chutney, cordial, potted plants, seeds, baked goods, hanging baskets or fresh snacks. Everything you bring to sell should include produce from your school garden.

Important details:

  • It’s completely free
  • There will be prizes for Best Dressed Stall, Most Innovative Product and   People’s Choice.
  • A maximum of 5 attendees per school, including children and adults (pupils must be able to attend).
  • Registration is simple and through our website:

Making the most of a small space

Growing in a small plot
Growing in a small space

The hats and gloves have been packed away and the sun has been making an appearance across the country.  With the warmer and lighter days comes the opportunity to pull on your wellies and start growing food at your school this year.

We know it might seem a bit daunting at first so we have put together a series of blogs to help you spring over the hurdles and get started.

Our schools survey showed that around 30% of schools consider lack of space to be one of the biggest hurdles to food growing that they face. So, first things first – where can we grow?

If you happen to have a nice sunny spot on your school playing field then great, start digging! But if not, don’t give up.  Lots of food can be grown in containers of all shapes and sizes on the ground, on windowsills or hanging down.

John Ruskin Primary School in Southwark have limited outdoor space so all of their growing is in trugs and raised beds built on the playground, and with help from Walworth Garden Farm, they have also started growing food on the roof of the school.

They have lost a bit of playground area but the children play around the beds which makes the space more dynamic. Now they’re thinking of how to make opportunities to grow upwards, using archways and trellis to get the most out of every square foot.

Suzy Gregory, Co-Deputy Headteacher suggests getting a planter as big as you can afford, and just start growing.  Plant something easy like lettuce, potatoes or tomatoes and give it a grow!

Recipe for Success

  1. Look at your space with new eyes and think creatively, use these resources to help choose crops that do well in small spaces
  1. Small manageable spaces can produce lots of different types of crops, this resource form Garden Organic helps you get the most out of a 120x120cm space
  1. If you want to gain as much growing area as possible consider your school roof but make sure you seek advice from professionals first

Grow Your Own Picnic

Time to Grow Your Own Picnic!
Time to Grow Your Own Picnic!

What better way to show off the school’s new-found gardening skills than to Grow Your Own Picnic to share with pupils, parents and the local community.

The FREE Grow Your Own Picnic Pack from Food Growing Schools: London is jammed full of advice, tips and activities to help you plan and grow crops and then turn them into delicious home-made dips, sandwiches, salads and other delights to create a summer picnic feast.

The pack also includes advice for linking with your local community to generate support for your growing activities and to share the spoils of success at the end of the summer term.

So what are you waiting for? Download the Grow Your Own Picnic pack now and start to harvest the benefits of school food growing.